Mourning a fallen commander

On 10 Jan. 1865, the 6th New York Heavy Artillery regiment — my ancestor Pvt. Arthur Bull’s unit — lost their long-time commander Brevet Brigadier-general J. Howard Kitching, 26, who died from the wounds he received at the Battle of Cedar Creek.

J. Howard Kitching in uniform
BBG J. Howard Kitching was a commander of my ancestor’s 6th NYHA. He  died after being wounded in the Battle of Cedar Creek and is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, Kings Co., N.Y.

BBG Kitching was commander of a Provisional Division during the Shenandoah Valley campaign — a force of three brigades of 2,000 soldiers each, according to a letter reprinted in his biography. My great, great grandfather Arthur Bull was one of those Union soldiers.

On the morning of 19 Oct. 1864, BBG Kitching was among the Union forces roused from their tents by a surprise Confederate assault — and the Battle of Cedar Creek was on.

Amid the chaos of battle, BBG Kitching rallied the Union troops, waylaid retreating stragglers and directed federal combatants back to the front — even after he was wounded.

In the book More than Conqueror, his biographer and family friend Theodore Irving interprets the scene that was described to him by BBG Kitching:

 Again his voice was heard above the din and confusion, the roar of musketry, and the mingled shouts of battle. In the midst of this wild tumult, facing the enemy, a minie ball crashed through his foot.  Wearied and wounded, he still sat his horse and gave his orders, though now in subdued tones.

A field surgeon successfully removed the ball and recommended that BBG Kitching be transported home. Sadly, writes Irving, despite returning to his family at Dobbs Ferry, Westchester Co., N.Y. — and some improvement in his condition during December 1864 — BBG Kitching succumbed during follow-up surgery in January 1865.

On 16 Jan 1865, the officers of the 6th NYHA regiment held a meeting at Camp Defences at Bermuda Hundred, Va., and passed a resolution — reprinted in an appendix to his biography — declaring a month of mourning in the regiment for BBG J. Howard Kitching.

Resolved, That as a further mark of our respect, the officers of the regiment wear the customary badge of mourning for thirty days.

I wonder whether my great, great grandfather — and his fellow 6th NYHA soldiers — wore a black arm band for BBG Kitching as their officers did. There is no way to know for sure.

But the loss of so young a commander, who had been with them through the Overland and Shenandoah Vally campaigns, must have affected them all — a reminder of the mortal sacrifice they each risked in the fight to end slavery and preserve the union.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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2 thoughts on “Mourning a fallen commander”

  1. Thanks as always, Jane, for your heartfelt comments. It would be an honor to go with you to visit BBG Kitching’s grave at Green-Wood. It has been more than a year since I was last there. Paying my respects to BBG Kitching helps me reconnect to my great, great grandfather who, alas, is buried too far away for me to easily visit.

  2. Hi Molly:

    Really enjoyed reading these last four posts! Especially since I recently returned from VA…in Williamsburg, for Revolutionary War sites and first landing of “foreigners” / forebears at Jamestown, but couldn’t help thinking of those troops from the Civil War–suffering as they walked throught the woods to battle.

    I think that a trip to Green-wood Cemetery in the Spring is called for–to visit the young fallen Commander’s gravesite!?

    I would also love to go to the cemetery in Staten Island to visit the site for Robert Gould Shaw…Maybe we can make a plan!

    Write on–it’s so interesting and I love the personal connection to peeling back the layers of history.

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